The Insider Threat & Risk of Kidnapping



This is excerpted from the upcoming Integrated Protective Concepts book Kidnapping Prevention & Avoidance that will be available late 1st Quarter/early 2nd Quarter 2013:


Without a doubt the greatest threat you are likely to potentially encounter is the insider threat. Numerous kidnapping cases throughout the world have involved a person close to the victim or with inside knowledge of the victim’s activities and routine facilitating the kidnapping.

We all depend to a greater or lesser degree on other people and in order to do what we need to do with need to involve others in our activities and make them aware of our schedule and so forth. We can’t allow ourselves to be so paralyzed with fear that we become ineffective but we do need to recognize this vulnerability, be aware and watch those around us. There are several prominent cases that have occurred in the US where insiders or in some cases former employees with inside knowledge were involved in kidnappings. Recently there was a home invasion in suburban New York City where a former nanny orchestrated the event and directed her associates over a cell phone as they held the family hostage and ransacked the home. That said this is an even more critical issue overseas where expatriates and travelers may rely even more heavily on local employees. This may include drivers and domestic staff, office employees, local partners and so forth.

How do we address this threat? First it’s important to now who you are dealing with whether that means conducting a due diligence investigation on a business partner or a background check on a maid. These investigations do have their limits and in many places public records are suspect at best. It’s also quite possible that the subject has no identifiable criminal background or ties so it’s important to go beyond this. You should make an effort to know as much about them as possible: where they live, who their family consists of, tribal, ethnic and political affiliations in places where those things matter – this is especially true of domestic staff but also true for close business partners, local representatives and perhaps lead personnel in a local office. The more the person knows about you and what you do the more you should know about them.

You should passively monitor local staff and watch for changes in behavior or situations that may indicate they are having personal problems or are vulnerable to outside influence. You should listen to gossip and rumors – you shouldn’t necessarily believe them but based on them you may want to investigate further to de-conflict what you have heard.

It’s also important to engage these people in a polite and professional way. Too often local personnel and domestic staff are treated like a piece of the furniture. These contacts should be done professionally and over-familiarity should be avoided. In Safe Travel Abroad we discussed dealing with local drivers and the same rules apply here. It’s important to treat staff respectfully but you should not try to make them your best friend. Many societies have very clearly defined boundaries between employer and employees that are ignored by well-meaning egalitarian westerners. This should of course be modulated based on the particular relationship and the local cultural norms. Regular conversations – even about innocuous subjects like the weather – allow you to get a baseline on their attitude and behavior so that you can better distinguish changes in behavior that may indicate a problem.

It’s particularly important not to mistreat local staff. This should go without saying but obviously making an enemy of someone with inside knowledge of your patterns and routines is never good not to mention the moral, ethical and professional reasons to not treat people badly.

In some locations it’s important to understand that local personnel may be under pressures that we are not accustomed to. They or their family may be threatened by criminals or terrorists, they may be obligated by family connections and traditions to provide information if requested or they may otherwise be in a situation where they are compromised and vulnerable. We will likely never be able to know all that we can about people working for us and those with close knowledge of our activities but understanding the potential risks is a good starting point. Just being aware of the insider threat potential will make us more inclined to monitor others’ behavior, stop ourselves from providing too much information and taking similar actions to reduce risk.



The Gang of Blondes – Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover


Looks can be deceiving and more than one person has fallen victim to becoming complacent because a person they were dealing with turned out to be more dangerous than they initially appeared. A great example of this is the “Gang of Blondes” (Gangue das Loiras) a female kidnapping ring that was believed to be responsible for at least 54 kidnappings between 2009 and 2012 in Sao Paulo and Rio di Janeiro, Brazil. The gang typically targeted middle class women in shopping mall and supermarket parking lots, frequently taking them at gunpoint as they attempted to get in their cars. Two members of the gang would then hold the victim hostage while other members used her credit cards and ATM card, making as many purchases as possible. There are reports that the gang conducted quick, impromptu surveillance on their victims to assess their wealth prior to carrying out the express kidnapping.

While the Gang of Blondes was ultimately caught by police they were successful over at least a three-year period and possibly longer as there reportedly initially began carrying out condominium burglaries before moving on to express kidnapping. Much of their success was undoubtedly their ability to blend into the environment looking like the people they were victimizing and also not looking like the stereotypical criminal or kidnapper. This benign appearance undoubtedly gave them cover to carry out their pre-operational surveillance and allowed them to approach their victims closely in mall parking lots without causing any alarm.

While this group targeted women this strategy is equally, perhaps in some ways more effective if employed against men. Men are even less likely to perceive women as a physical threat and the “honey trap” aspect can further entice them to lower their guard.

The take-away from this is that we need to be careful about making immediate assumptions about whether someone is a threat or not based solely on appearance or gender. We should look more at the person’s behavior and whether it seems incongruous with the environment or setting we are in. This is particularly true at critical times when situational awareness should be heightened such as arrivals and departures. Clearly getting into your car in a parking lot – even in broad daylight – is one of those times. At home or abroad deception is a tool that criminals use to prey on victims and we shouldn’t allow stereotypes or assumptions lull us into complacency.

Human Behavior & Personal Security

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In the article “3 Neglected Skillsets for Security” we mentioned one of the most over looked and least appreciated aspects of personal security is the study and understanding of human behavior. In most cases security threats will come directly from human beings. This may not be totally true in certain environments – for example where IEDs may be the predominant threat – but even in those locations reading human behavior plays an important role which we will touch on shortly.

Behavioral analysis or profiling focuses on identifying human actions that are aberrant or out of context with the environment or situation. A criminal about to carry out an armed robbery or an assault will exhibit behavior that is different from a person walking to the store or going to work. Intelligence professionals often use the term “demeanor”. Demeanor is something you should pay attention to when evaluating a situation or person. Do the person’s deportment, activity and so forth fit the location and situation they are in? If not, why? There may be many reasons that a person’s behavior is out of context or out of place and many of those reasons may be benign but they are still worthy of your attention.

These same principles come into play when practicing surveillance detection. The ability to interpret human behavior and decide whether it fits the environment or not can play a key role in detecting surveillance. A surveillant will frequently need to remain in place for an extended period of time trying to appear “normal” and this attempt to be inconspicuous and maintain his cover will actually make him more suspicious if you are aware of your environment and understand the fundamental of reading human behavior.

As we mentioned earlier, even in environments where the primary threat may be IEDs there is an important role for reading behavior. While the IED itself is inanimate if it is command detonated there will be human beings involved in identifying the target and remotely detonating the IED and the opportunity may exist to detect these spotters based upon their behavior. Additionally someone will need to emplace the IED which provides another opportunity to detect behavior.

The first component is to establish what is normal in the environment – this is known as the baseline. This is a fluid component that may change based on the hour of the day, day or the week and so forth. The key is to get a sense of what is normal at that particular time and then look for aberrations or anomalies. The next component is to develop a basic understanding of body language to more readily interpret the behavior of the person in question.

We have just scratched the surface of this topic here. I recommend for those that are interested in more information on this topic that you check out \. The folks at are much more knowledgeable than I am and do a great job explaining the subtle nuances of behavior detection and analysis as it relates to security.